With just over two weeks remaining before the NBA's 2013 trade deadline, ESPN's Chad Ford suggested the Milwaukee Bucks are "VERY active" (emphasis his) in the trade market. Ford echoed colleague Marc Stein's earlier comments regarding Samuel Dalembert, whom the Bucks have reportedly been actively shopping. Speaking in a chat on ESPN, Ford suggested Dalembert wasn't the only player on the block:
John Hammond has consistently stated his approval of the current backcourt pairing in Milwaukee, but there has also been little talk about Ellis' future with the Bucks. That raises the obvious suspicion that the Bucks are just trying to keep up appearances with Ellis, who could opt out of the $11 million he's owed next season and become an unrestricted free agent this summer. Milwaukee has previously discussed extending Ellis, but that's never been a likely scenario: any extension would require Ellis to pick up his 13/14 option, be limited to just two years beyond his current deal, and the first year salary would be limited to 7.5% above his current deal. It's not likely Ellis signs for more than $12 million this summer, but presumably he'd be looking for a new four year deal to take him into his early 30s.
Among the Bucks likely to be unrestricted free agents this summer, Ellis could easily be viewed as the Bucks' most valuable trade asset--a proven scorer with a contract that's short enough to not destroy future cap room. But assuming the Bucks are committed to a playoff run this season--and all signs point to yes--moving him would almost certainly require simultaneously bringing in his replacement. Any team wondering if he could fill a primary role might share the same concerns as Bucks fans currently do regarding Ellis abilities, and those teams who would slot him in a complementary role might not have the assets to pry him away from Milwaukee.
The same constraints apply to many of the Bucks' top assets. Ersan Ilyasova's emergence from an early-season slump could make him extremely attractive in a trade, but would the Bucks be willing to move a player they view as a key contributor? Same goes for Beno Udrih, who represents the only truly reliable guard off the bench for interim coach Jim Boylan.
Which brings us back to the frontcourt, where most observers have concluded a trade isn't just likely, it might be necessary for the Bucks to cement their playoff seeding and compete in a postseason series. Sanders' emergence has presumably rendered Samuel Dalembert more easily expendable, but Sanders' back injury might give Hammond pause in trading away his de facto backup. Dalembert's scoring explosion against the Nuggets augments his favorable contract situation to boost his value, so if a trade is going to happen, now might be the time to pull the trigger. Dalembert's re-emergence has also put Ekpe Udoh on the periphery of the Bucks' big man rotation for the first time since he arrived a year ago, which also raises the obvious question of how critical Udoh is to the Bucks' long-term plans.
There's little doubt the Bucks' collection of assets and relative flexibility (they could afford to take on some salary, especially if Herb Kohl acquiesces to amnestying Drew Gooden next summer) makes the environment ripe for a reshuffle, but the Bucks might feel content seeing the season out with their current roster. Just don't be surprised to see Milwaukee's name come up in a boatload of rumors over the next two weeks.